For months, the country has been waiting for a pandemic turning point – and it could be here, in the form of children under 5 eligible for Covid vaccines.
Don’t expect Covid to disappear overnight, experts say.
Covid vaccines for young children are “absolutely a game-changer for some families,” Andrew Noymer, associate professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California, Irvine, told CNBC Make It. “[But] unfortunately this is not the last piece of the puzzle.”
The good news is very good: 18 million more people are now eligible to be vaccinated in the coming months, and even a fraction of them would significantly increase the country’s overall protection against the virus.
But low vaccination rates among the rest of the US population — coupled with the emergence of new variants and constant regional Covid surges — make it difficult to determine when exactly the pandemic will escalate to endemic status.
Here’s why, and what experts say you can do to help end the Covid pandemic:
Low immunization rates remain a big problem
About two-thirds of people in the United States have now received a series of primary Covid vaccines, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number drops dramatically among younger age groups: As of last week, less than 30% of eligible 5-11 year olds were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in the United States.
Many parents may understandably be nervous about their child receiving a new vaccine. But withdrawing does more harm than good for these children, says Dr. Jesica Herrick, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Illinois School of Medicine: Just under 90% of children aged 5 to 11-year-olds who were hospitalized with Covid during the December omicron surge were unvaccinated, according to the CDC.
As soon as Herrick had access to the vaccine, his 7-month-old son was vaccinated last week. “People aren’t as close to data and numbers as we are,” she says, “I had my child vaccinated from the first appointment I could get, and I think that’s the case of most physicians.”
Part of the problem, Herrick says, is that Covid fatigue is in full swing among much of the American population. For many people, omicron and its subvariants do not cause particularly severe illness, especially in fully vaccinated people, giving people less reason to be extremely cautious about virus prevention.
But there’s no guarantee that Covid mutations end in omicron, says Ali Mokdad, director of population health strategy at the University of Washington in Seattle. As long as the virus continues to circulate in one way or another, it may mutate again – and it is impossible to predict the severity of future variants.
“We can’t just push the pandemic away. You can’t just close your eyes and say, ‘Nothing is happening, the pandemic is over,'” Herrick says.
Finding solutions to finally make Covid endemic
In March, a major report released by a large group of doctors and public health experts laid out a roadmap for taking Covid from pandemic to endemic in the United States. He noted that to reach a “new normal”, death rates from Covid would need to roughly match those from the flu — less than 165 new deaths per day, on average.
On Monday, the seven-day average of new daily Covid deaths in the country was 371, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The solution could include vaccines that target specific variants of Covid. On Tuesday, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is meeting to discuss approving these omicron-specific vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna as boosters this fall, potentially as the first of a annual series of personalized reminders.
Mokdad says clinical trial data for these vaccines bodes well so far – but if you or your child aren’t up to date on Covid vaccines, you shouldn’t wait for a new vaccine to be released. approved. The sooner the country’s vaccination percentages can increase, he says, the better.
“There is a new vaccine coming that has been updated to include BA.4, BA.5 or omicron,” he says, “But we shouldn’t wait for a better vaccine to come out. We should vaccinate our children today and provide them with better protection as soon as possible.”
That’s especially important right now: New daily cases are on the rise again, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, meaning a new variant of unknown severity could soon emerge.
Thomas Russo, an infectious disease physician at the University at Buffalo, says these types of unknowns make Covid particularly impossible to predict. What we do know, he says, is that vaccinations are currently the most important tool in our pandemic toolbox.
“This virus isn’t going anywhere, and it’s going to keep circulating for a number of years, if not forever,” Russo says, “Therefore, the amount of damage it causes is going to be indirectly proportional to the proportion of the population that is vaccinated.”
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